On musical circuit

hear that?

On musical circuit

All music has fans; country music has family!” so said musician Darius Rucker. No truer words said, from one who has spanned the genres of rock, pop, R&B and country. For country music aficionados, all roads definitely lead to Nashville, Tennessee, USA.

For me, this was a family pilgrimage on behalf of my father, from whom we inherited our love of this genre of music. A minimum of four days is required to sample the delights of the Music City of the USA. Broadway is the city’s most famous street, and tourist transportation is by the Trolley Tours, Hop-on Hop-off Trolleys, and time travel in the delightful horse & carriage! If you have your own transport, then Airbnb accommodation is the way to go.

As with most pilgrims, our first stop was the Grand Ole Opry — the stage that such icons as Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton have tread, and is still the holy grail for young aspirants. Catching a live performance in this 4,000-seat auditorium with its famous barn-stage backdrop is a must. What started as a simple radio broadcast in 1925, titled The WSM Barn Dance, has today become an international phenomenon. Every show is still broadcast live on Nashville’s 650AM WSM.

In its 90th year, the Grand Ole Opry presents a mix of musical styles as well as multiple generations of artistes. Keith Urban, Blake Shelton and Carrie Underwood are some of the younger crop to have performed here. I was fortunate to have caught the famous Connie Smith, and rising new star and my new favourite, Brandy Clark.

The backstage tour is for die-hard country fans. Of special interest is the lounge for Opry members, adorned with post boxes (for fans to directly get in touch with their idols) and engraved plaques with the names of its over 200 members. An invitation to be a member is the most coveted in the industry. As exciting is a walk past the opulent dressing rooms of the stars, the corridors replete with framed photographs and their quotations. All through the tour, you are treated to snappy titbits of information about who did what, where. One such is that the only member in the history of the Opry to be asked to ‘step back’ was Johnny Cash, who was subsequently reinstated when he got his life back on track.

So loved is Johnny Cash that a brick building on 3rd Avenue, just off Broadway, is dedicated to the life of The Man In Black. With memorabilia-like items salvaged from his house that burned down — old family photographs and record of his humanitarian work — this is an emotional journey for true Cash fans.

Still on the song trail, we found ourselves at the 1,30,000-sq-ft Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Starting our journey on the third floor of the bass clef-styled building, we worked our way down from its roots in folk music through the present-day course chartered by country music. This is as comprehensive as history gets. Each floor houses a permanent and a feature exhibition, plus a mini theatre. This truly unrivalled and amazing repository of iconic instruments (Elvis Presley’s gold piano), handwritten lyrics (Dolly Parton’s Jolene), sheet music, sound recordings, oral histories, items of clothing, vehicles, photographs, moving images and memorabilia, together with technology-enhanced interactive exhibits, provides a thorough immersion in the story of country music.

Of gold & platinum

Special mention must be made of the two-storey Gold Record Wall (adorned with every gold and platinum country record produced) and the 70-ft-high Hall of Fame, a rotunda where the most esteemed in the country music industry is honoured with a bronze bas-relief portrait. There are retail stores, restaurants, archival storage, classrooms and event space all housed under this one roof.

A tour of RCA Studio B — the oldest surviving recording studio in Nashville and home of more than a thousand hits, plus the iconic letterpress print shop whose posters served as the leading advertising medium for Southern entertainment, are the other attractions attached to the museum.

If you need a break from the music circuit, worth a visit is the Parthenon, a full-scale replica built for the 1897 Tennessee Centennial Exposition. At the centre of Centennial Park, this structure, representing the city’s reputation as the ‘Athens of the South’, houses a fabulous 41’10”-tall Athena, goddess of wisdom, gilded and painted with 8 pounds (3.6 kg) of 23.75 carat gold. Permanent displays also include paintings by 19th and 20th century American artists, donated by James M Cowan, and the reconstructed pediments using the original Elgin casts by sculptors Leopold and Belle Kinney Scholz.

The Tennessee Agricultural Museum, housed in a renovated plantation barn, provides a time warped walk through the  agrarian and other industries of 19th and early 20th century Tennessee. Don’t miss the very first washing machine, a wooden tub that sold for the princely sum of $5.75! The grounds contain nature trails, log cabins, a farm house and a one-room school.

Dining is as varied, from the General Jackson Showboat lunch & dinner cruises along the Cumberland River to food trucks and in between. Our favourites were the cultural icon The Loveless Cafe, country-styled, with large portions of good ole Southern cooking. The entrance boasts signed photographs of celebrities who have dined here. It was well worth the drive out on Highway 100. The Pinewood Social at 33 Peabody Street featuring ‘new age American cuisine’, with cocktails and bowling, is definitely a trendsetter. And the tucked-away-in-the-corner, full-of-soul The Local Taco, with its finger lick’n food and cheerful staff, is a hidden gem. To hit the sweet spot, head to the 104-year-old Goo Goo Shop & Dessert Bar opposite the Cash Museum.

Hic... hic... hurray

At sundown, the neon lights of Lower Broadway beckon irresistibly. The street houses an amazing array of honky-tonk bars, each with its own live entertainment. Too confused to choose? No problem. Just walk the street and enjoy the different styles of music blaring from the various hot spots! Tootsies Orchid Lounge and the Wildhorse Saloon (WHS) are two of the most famous ones. We spent a fantastic evening at the three-storied WHS celebrating an octogenarian’s special day. Their USP is line dancing sessions and exotic cocktails. Be sure to book well in advance as lines wind down the road. And do carry an identity card as it is mandatory for entry at most establishments. An eyeball grabber on this street is the Mobile Bar that moves on coordinated leg power! There is never a dull moment in Nashville.

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